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Student Life

The solution in our stars

Amid the horrifying realities in our world, have you ever looked up and wondered why God, karma, the universe – anything – isn’t doing something? 

I don’t know about God or karma, but the universe does, in fact, have something. World Space Week (WSW) occurs yearly from Oct. 4 to Oct. 10 in over 86 countries. It is meant to educate people on space findings, the importance of space exploration and the role of space in sustainability on earth. I found out about WSW only recently, and having gone to the event in Lebanon, I met the Lebanese National Coordinator Cyrine Nehmé, an astrophysicist.

“The only way we are going to save the earth and the universe is if we elevate to a higher frequency, and to think differently,” she said. “We are not just flesh and blood, we are other.” She added that, although she wasn’t speaking very scientifically, she said those words responsibly. 

In the 19th century, scientists noticed that sunlight reflected in some objects generates an electric current called solar cells (or photovoltaic power), which became solar panels meant for spaceships. Satellites, Google Maps, television, wireless products — all are results of space education.

Looking to outer space for a more sustainable use of earth’s resources isn’t new — it’s one of the goals of space exploration. The role of WSW is to make this information available to non-scientists, to reach as many people as possible. Space belongs to everyone; it’s our right to know how it can benefit us and how we can use that knowledge to help solve some of the problems we created. 

Living in space requires a strong sense of rationing — everything is limited and should be used efficiently. That alone is something us earthlings can learn from. Water scarcity is expected to become an imminent threat in the next five years. According to the WWF, two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to suffer water shortages by 2025.

There are techniques that were initially developed for astronauts to purify wastewater into drinking water. According to an article in Space News, the University of Kenitra in Morocco uses these techniques to purify nearby groundwater supplies. This provides clean water for 1,200 students, thus reducing the need to transport clean water, which reduces carbon emissions.

Like solar panels, technologies meant for outer space have a place here too, and an eco-friendly one at that. In a 2016 BBC article, Daniel Thomas wrote that NASA’s Ames Research Centre built a “green building” in California, where they’re testing energy-saving technologies. 

“Sustainability Base leaves ‘virtually no footprint’ and uses several innovations from space, including solid oxide fuel cells of the type found on Nasa Mars rovers to generate electricity, and a system that reuses wastewater to flush toilets,” wrote Thomas. 

According to the WWF, agriculture plays a massive role in climate change; from greenhouse gas emissions to water pollution, deforestation to loss of wildlife biodiversity, the impact is significant. Growing food in space became possible last year, and has also set the idea of virtual farming a “highly sustainable form of agriculture,” as Thomas wrote. Space farming uses LED lights which increase productivity and are sustainable.

Sustainability is built primarily on humanitarian ideals: meeting the needs of the present without compromising future generations’ ability to meet theirs. World representatives at the UN’s Fourth Committee spoke about the benefits space education had for their countries, from developing technologically to alleviating extreme poverty. Other benefits include improving the efficiency and facilitating the achievement of the UN’s 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development Goals, satellite communications, enhancing disaster preparedness and mitigation, and even improving the understanding of “symptoms relating to aging.” 

There’s already a lot from space technology we can adopt on Earth for a more sustainable use of our limited resources. Yes, let’s march and raise awareness about climate change, it’s important that we highlight the problem. Yet, we should also spread information about the solution – look up, it’s in the stars.

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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Student Life

Shooting for the stars

Space Concordia aims to launch first civilian liquid-propelled rocket

The rocketry division of Space Concordia is participating in the Base 11 Space Challenge, a $1 million race to develop the world’s first civilian liquid-propelled rocket to go to space.

Since its inception in 2010, Space Concordia has won several national and international competitions, including two first-place prizes at the Spaceport America Cup in 2018. The student society consists of over 200 students from various academic fields who are separated into the spacecraft, robotics and rocketry subdivisions. Today, the rocketry division is taking on its biggest challenge yet: going to space.

“No student group has ever succeeded in what we are trying to do,” said Hannah Jack Halcro, president of Space Concordia. “There’s no accounting for just how completely above and beyond the rocketry division is going with the space rocket project. Very little of what we do at Space Concordia is covered in our courses. The other 90 per cent is willpower, teamwork and good research.”

The Base 11 Space Challenge is a competition that encourages students to be the first to design, build and launch a liquid-propelled rocket to an altitude of 100 kilometres. This altitude is referred to as the Karman line, which represents the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. Schools across North America are competing for the chance to make history and win $1 million in prize money. If Space Concordia is successful, they will have built the most powerful amateur rocket motor in history.

“It’s insanely difficult, but you do these things because they are difficult,” said Khalimonov. “If you don’t think you can win, what’s the point in trying?”

“The dream was always to get to space,” said Rocketry Lead Oleg Khalimonov. “So we said, ‘Fuck the competitions. We’re going to do this; we’re going to build this rocket and we’re going to go to space.’ That’s why we decided, for the first time, to not enter into any other competitions, drop all side projects, and just consolidate all of our efforts and work very, very, very hard on this one crazy task.”

The first phase of the competition recently passed in March. Students produced a document of their designs for the rocket, its safety plan, as well as an outreach and diversity strategy. Space Concordia students are currently in the testing phase. They have built parts of the rocket and are preparing to test their engines.

“We’re taking this competition exceptionally seriously,” said Khalimonov. “We’re working night and day. […] The preliminary design review is basically a summary of all the work we’ve done to date on the rocket put into one big document. I’m proud to say it’s one of the most impressive documents I’ve ever worked on. It’s about 600 pages.”

The most prominent challenge the group faces is their lack of funding. Space Concordia is financed through sponsorships and donations. However, even a fraction of the project can add up to thousands of dollars.

“Imagine if the Apollo missions had a budget smaller than buying a house,” said Halcro. “Everything we are doing is so much bigger now, and our growth is so fast that our sponsorship team is having a hard time keeping up.”

Despite the obstacles they face, Space Concordia students are hopeful and determined to accomplish this milestone feat. The competition is the biggest challenge the rocketry division has ever taken on, and the team is working hard to achieve their longtime goal of launching a rocket to the edge of space.

“It’s insanely difficult, but you do these things because they are difficult,” said Khalimonov. “If you don’t think you can win, what’s the point in trying?”

Feature photo courtesy of Oleg Khalimonov

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